Web Wars: Why Would A Start-Up Online Pub Nab The Name of an Art Space It Might Very Well Cover?

On February 13, a new addition to the local cultural media launched, Central Track, founded by former Dallas Observer music editor Pete Freedman. Even before the launch, some local art watchers were scratching their heads, not over the new site, but over its choice of names. After all, since 2008, CentralTrak, the University of Texas at Dallas Artists Residency (originally founded in 2002), has housed artists visiting Dallas as part of its residency program while hosting exhibitions and other events in its space in Expo Park.

Certainly it’s a dog-eat-dog media world out there, but assuming the name of an existing arts non-profit organzation, not to mention purchasing the domain name  “Centraltrak-dot-com” and redirecting its traffic to Centraltrack.com, seems like not the best way to introduce yourself to the local community, especially a part of the community that you’ll most likely be covering.

But what is also unfortunate about the potential confusion between the two organizations, is that it comes as the new director of CentralTrak (the artists residency), Heyd Fontenot, plans to increase the art organization’s online presence, having just launched a new website that will feature  interviews, blogs, and recommendations related to their work as an art space.  For that project, the UTD organization has taken the website Centraltrak.net (since “Centraltrak.com was, ahem, taken), and Centraltrak has updated its Facebook page to read: “CentralTrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency,” lest someone misunderstand.

I can imagine the “who’s-on-first-scenario:”

-“Hey, have you seen that new Dallas Arts website, CentralTrak?”

-“You mean, Central Track? The new ‘hotness’ where most of the writers sound like Ashton Kutcher trying to make sense of the city’s art, music, and food scenes? And they refer to women who play music together as ‘chick-rockers?’ That Central Track?”

-“No, I mean, CentralTrak, the artists residency in Expo Park with the new website that has interviews, blogs, and the rest.”

-“Okay, so you don’t mean the for-profit “Central Track-dot-com” that purchased “CentralTrak.com” lest someone accidentally stumble onto a perfectly harmless and locally beneficial non-profit establishment that already existed here for years, instead their media platform?”

-“No, that’s not what I mean at all.”

Yikes. Sounds problematic already. There isn’t much charm in a private business actively competing with a public university’s arts contribution by predatorily snapping up its most obvious would-be web address, so I asked Central Track founder Pete Freedman why the group took the name — and the web address. Turns out, he doesn’t see a problem with it.

“It’s nothing malicious, man,” Freedman said at an event Central Track hosted at Good Records this past weekend. “I honestly didn’t know about it.”

Not aware of the artists residency on Expo?

“You know I wasn’t, to be honest,” Freedman said. “I’m not trying to steal the name.”

Freedman said he believes sharing the name might actually be a good thing for the artists’ residency.

“If anything, maybe it gives them a little more shine,” he said.

I’m not sure how that works. I suppose according to that logic we should just all start naming spaces, blogs, and businesses the same name. How about a new theater space in Expo Park called “D Magazine’s FrontRow?” Or what about a botanical shop called “Unfair Park,” or a after school arts and crafts program called “Art & Seek?”

The name Central Track refers to the rail line that used to run through Deep Ellum.

“It’s one of the original names of the neighborhood, Deep Ellum,” Freedman says about the website’s choice of names.  Then all of a sudden we’re in an impromptu book club meeting. “Have you read Alan Govenar’s book, Deep Ellum and Central Track? It’s a phenomenal book. You should read it.”

I haven’t read the book. For one, a new copy costs over $300 on Amazon, and a used one is no cheaper than $56. Besides, we both know you probably just borrowed your copy from Dallas’ unofficial historian, former Observer writer Robert Wilonsky. The thing is, I didn’t have to read a book to know about Central Track. You could just go to CentralTrak’s mission statement to find out:

“The name CentralTrak comes from the rich history of Deep Ellum and derives from the “central tracks” of a tramline that once connected the south side of the city to Main Street and the Central Business District. In choosing this name, we pay homage to the cultural history of the area”

What I find puzzling about Freedman’s claims that he wasn’t aware of CentralTrak, though, is that the CentralTrak-dot-com domain name was registered a full twelve days before Freedman’s announcement that he was leaving the Observer, suggesting that someone involved with the Central Track launch was concerned about confusing the two entities. I mean, even today if you  type the words “Central” and “Track” into Google, the first thing that comes up is the “Centraltrak – UT Dallas Artists Residency.” Not sure how they missed that.

“You know what happened is we own, like, a bunch of different spellings of the name,” Freedman says. “We have ‘tracks,’ plural. We have ‘dot com.’ We have ‘dot net.’ We have ‘trax’ with an ‘a-x.’ That’s just for branding purposes.”

That branding, of course, runs up against the branding of CentralTrak, the artist’s residency. I asked Fontenot about the Central Track confusion.

“I have heard of this other site, and I feel it’s unfortunate,” Fontenot said. “As a young non-profit organization, we’re all working hard to build CentralTrak’s reputation and its brand, and my fear is that CentralTrack will be confusing to a lot of people who are trying to find us.”

It would be one thing if the two organizations merely had to live sharing the same name (not to mention neighborhoods. Central Track has hung a huge sign outside their offices at The Futura Lofts, blocks from artists residency on Commerce St.) But Fontenot said that CentralTrak will continue to expand its new website, and it will feature lots of new styles of content, including blogs and interviews.

“We’re sort of inventing it as we go along,” Fontenot said. “I’ve tried not to be too ‘directive’ about content. I’ve wanted the site to be another creative opportunity.  I want to see what everyone is compelled to post, but I’ve heavily encouraged participation.”

Fontenot said there will be a section called “Tete a Tete,” where artists interview one another, as well as section called “Heads Up,” in which the current artists-in-residence at CentralTrak offer recommendations of quality art they’ve seen lately. Its all a way to expand the awareness and the efficaciousness of the residency program in the community — and beyond.

“I was listening to feedback, people talking about how they experienced CentralTrak, and especially people in their twenties who live online,” Fontenot said. “I wanted CentralTrak to have more connectivity to the community and to have an audience outside of Dallas. My hope is that this will form a living-document of CentralTrak’s activities and eventually be a record of CentralTrak’s history.”

CentralTrak’s new website will be a way for the art space to exist beyond its four walls, and because of the nature of the residency, Fontenot is looking forward to watching how it constantly evolves.

“Each time an individual artist comes to CentralTrak and each time an artist leaves CentralTrak, the vibe changes here,” he said. “There are few consistencies, because the ‘ingredients’ are always different. I expect our web presence to reflect that organic, ‘fluxing,’ creative environment.”

The irony is that CentralTrak’s pending website launch sounds like a new and fresh way approach to integrating digital content into a multi-media platform that extends beyond a local audience. In other words, despite their domain name buying-blitz, Central Track might end up being the lesser-known of the two online entities.

Centraltrak.net has launched, just as CentralTrak plans its new exhibition, opening on March 10, for Deborah Aschheim, an artist from Los Angeles. You’ll be able to read about that show on Centraltrak, and, well, maybe even Central Track too. That is, if their writers have finally located the art space.

CentralTrak is at 800 Exposition Ave and hosts various events, exhibitions, and the occasional live act. You can visit their new website at Centraltrak.net.

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